National Geographic : 2009 Jun
ere s no proof these cancers were caused by pesticides. But researchers have found pesti- cides in the Punjabi farmers blood, their water table, their vegetables, even their wives breast milk. So many people take the train from the Malwa region to the cancer hospital in Bikaner that it s now called the Cancer Express. e gov- ernment is concerned enough to spend millions on reverse-osmosis water-treatment plants for the worst a ected villages. If that weren t worrisome enough, the high cost of fertilizers and pesticides has plunged many Punjabi farmers into debt. One study found more than 1,400 cases of farmer suicides in 93 villages between 1988 and 2006. Some groups put the total for the state as high as 40,000 to 60,000 suicides over that period. Many drank pesticides or hung themselves in their elds. " e green revolution has brought us only downfall," says Jarnail Singh, a retired school- teacher in Jajjal village. "It ruined our soil, our environment, our water table. Used to be we had fairs in villages where people would come together and have fun. Now we gather in medi- cal centers. e government has sacri ced the people of Punjab for grain." Others, of course, see it di erently. Rattan Lal, a noted soil scientist at Ohio State who graduated from Punjab Agricultural University in 1963, believes it was the abuse---not the use---of green revolution technologies that caused most of the problems. at includes the overuse of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation and the removal of all crop residues from the elds, essentially strip-mining soil nutrients. "I realize the problems of water quality and water withdrawal," says Lal. "But it saved hun- dreds of millions of people. We paid a price in water, but the choice was to let people die." In terms of production, the bene ts of the green revolution are hard to deny. India hasn t experienced famine since Borlaug brought his seeds to town, while world grain production has more than doubled. Some scientists credit Employees of a waterworks plant in Foshan, China, toast their good fortune at a 13-course banquet served to 3,000 people. Such feasts are a public testament to new wealth in Guangdong Province, once renowned for its long history of hardship.